Monthly Archive for July, 2008

Nonfiction Monday – The Astronaut Handbook


When I was a kid I had two recurrent dreams. One was to swim with Jacques Cousteau, and the other was to go to the moon. I didn’t have moon boots, but I spent many hours on my pogo stick pretending I was “walking” on the moon. For kids with big dreams like mine, Meghan McCarthy’s new book Astronaut Handbook is a great introduction to astronaut training.

Before I begin this review, I must share a little back story and make a personal confession. The first Meghan McCarthy book I ever bought was Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account Of The 1938 War Of The Worlds Radio Broadcast. Released in 2006, it quickly became part of my teaching collection. I now own every book she has published, in part because I’m so enamored with her style of illustration, and in part because of her skill as a storyteller. Her nonfiction works are particularly enjoyable because they present people and events in engaging ways. So, I’m putting all my McCarthy love out on the table and telling you upfront that I haven’t met a McCarthy book I didn’t like and that furthermore, I can always find creative ways to use these gems in the classroom.

Okay, on to the matter at hand. Astronaut Handbook opens the door to astronaut training and lets readers in on all the secrets. It begins this way.

Welcome to astronaut school! Soon you will be boarding a space shuttle and BLASTING into outer space. All different kinds of people have become astronauts. There have been teachers, painters, and even deep-sea divers. You can be an astronaut, too!

On this double-page spread the reader finds a diverse group of astronauts sitting at their desks, decked out in flight gear, reading to begin their training. Next readers learn different types of astronauts and are hit with the cold, hard fact that becoming an astronaut is a lot of work. A really beautiful double-page spread of a trainee working in a science lab where a stack of books is piled high is accompanied by text that reminds readers to “study hard in school. Studying isn’t always easy, but stick with it!”

The text goes on to talk about fitness requirements, being a team player (the illustration of three astronauts working inside a confined space is amazing, and a bit unnerving for someone as claustrophobic as I am), survival training, and more. Readers learn about training for specific jobs, like engineers and pilots, as well as training for weightlessness on the Vomit Comet. After learning about space food, we get a look at a real space toilet and a space suit. Did you know that a space suit has 12 layers? or that on earth a space suit weighs 280 pounds?

Finally it’s time to blast off, and readers see the astronauts preparing to liftoff on the space shuttle. Turn the page and rotate the book to see that baby take off! We’re reminded again that it’s best to like small spaces, as we see the astronauts strapped in and working together. The book ends with a double-page spread of one lucky astronaut walking on the moon.

McCarthy has provided a page of fascinating facts and a bibliography of books, web sites (NASA), videos and places to visit. For even more information and fun, check out the astronaut videos on McCarthy’s web site. You can also learn how to make your own rocket! Finally, Random House has a downloadable teacher’s guide for the book.

Overall, this is a really informative and entertaining book for young students interested in space and space travel. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to sharing it with teachers and their kids this fall.

Book: Astronaut Handbook
Author/Illustrator: Meghan McCarthy
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date:
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: K-4
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a local independent bookstore.

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If you are looking for companion texts for this book, I highly recommend using Faith McNulty’s If You Decide to Go to the Moon. It picks up where Astronaut Handbook leaves off and focuses on the special preparations necessary for a moon landing. Then, for something more poetic and historical, consider using Anastasia Suen’s book Man on the Moon, which tell the story of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Must-Have Subscriptions for Teachers

For years teachers have been asking me where I get my ideas from and how I manage to always seem to “know” where so many great resources are. The truth is, I have a series of e-mail subscriptions that I can’t live without. I’m sharing them with you here. I hope you find them as great a store of information as I have.

Miss Maggie
This weekly e-mail update (during the academic year) provides teachers with lessons and activities, free weekly activity packets (downloadable in pdf format), and opportunities to win free books and materials.
Members (free registration) have access to over 1500 worksheets, activities and lesson plans for preschool through third grade. In addition to basic worksheets on the Alphabet, Numbers, Money, Time, Measurement, the Calendar, and the Senses, there are also themed worksheets as well as monthly pages. A monthly newsletter announces all the recent additions to the site.

Surfing the Net with Kids by Barbara Feldman
This weekly newsletter contains three site recommendations on a single topic. Topics include everything from How to Write Poetry, D-Day, Volcanoes, Endangered Species and more.

PBS Teachers Newsletter
This weekly newsletter alerts you to PBS shows with of interest to you and provides links to online resources. Once you sign up you can create a profile at PBS Teachers and identify your local PBS station, your subject area, and/or the grade level you teach. Your newsletter content will then be arranged so that you see the most relevant information right away.

EDINFO Mailing List
EDInfo provides 1-2 email messages a week describing new federal teaching and learning resources and ED funding opportunities.

Works4Me Newsletter
This weekly newsletter from the NEA contains practical tips from teachers on everything from managing your classroom to teaching content to getting organized and many more areas.

Math Solutions Online Newsletter
This quarterly newsletter on math education contains lessons to use in your classroom, answers to questions from teachers and information on what's new at Math Solutions.

AIMS (Activities Integrating Math and Science) News
In this monthly newsletter subscribers receive two free activities, a puzzle, a special offer, and information on what’s new at AIMS.

Dover Publications Teacher Sampler
This weekly email is filled with projects and activities, including puzzles and brain-teasers, science projects, stories and poems, nature illustrations, and more. Sample pages are available online.

Nonfiction Monday – United Tweets of America


In most states, 4th grade is the year kids learn state history. In addition to learning about important people and places, they learn about things like the state flag, flower, bird, and more. I’m always looking for interesting ways to share this info, and I’m happy to report that I’ve found a gem of a book that only introduces state birds, but many other fun facts about the 50 states. Hudson Talbot’s book entitled United Tweets of America presents, as the cover mentions, “50 states birds, their stories, their glories.”

The book opens with a double-page spread map of the United States. Surrounding the map are images of each state bird in a small picture frame. A bald eagle holding a microphone speaks to readers saying:

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the United Tweets of America Pageant. As your national Big Bird, I have the honor to introduce the fine feathered Americans who represent this great land. So here they are …

A turn of the page begins the parade of states, led by the bird of Alabama. Many of the birds in the line are talking to the crowd, themselves or other birds. Alabama’s bird says “Howdy, y’all!” while waving to the crowd. Arizona’s bird says “We’re birds. Why are we walking?” Connecticut’s bird turns to the rooster behind him and says “This is a no-crow zone.” While this parade begins, the narrator (bald eagle) announces them by saying:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE PARADE OF STATES! From Alabama to Wyoming, each one is a winner . . . And now we’ll tell you a little something about each bird and the state they call home.

What follows are fifty-one (D.C. is included) fun- and fact-filled pages of information. Each page has an outline of the state with a star locating the capital, the name of the state along with its nickname and capital, a picture of the bird accompanied by information about it, as well as other facts about the state. Here are a few things I learned while reading this entertaining and fancifully illustrated book.

  • Hawaii – The state bird is the Nene. It is the rarest state bird, having been hunted to near extinction. Currently about 800 nenes exist in the wild.
  • Iowa – The state bird is the American Goldfinch. There are approximately five hogs for every human in Iowa.
  • Maine – The state bird is the black-capped chickadee. Main supplies 90% of all lobsters consumed in the U.S. It also supplies 99% of the blueberries and 90% of the toothpicks.
  • Seven states have adopted the Northern Cardinal as their state bird.

I won’t tell you how it ends, or who wins the pageant. Let’s just say it’s a slam-bang finish.

I can’t really do justice to this book in a written review, as half the beauty lies in the clever illustrations. Readers will want to spend time looking closely to see what the birds are doing and saying. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to sharing it with teachers and their kids this fall.

Book: United Tweets of America
Author/Illustrator: Hudson Talbot
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date:
Pages: 64 pages
Grades: 1-5
ISBN: 978-0399245206
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a local independent bookstore.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen's blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.